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Germany

Learning to Learn in Germany

After years of war and unrest, coming to Germany was like a dream for a group of Afghan students. They experienced a completely different type of school, learning with computers and experimenting with creativity.

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It's a long way from Kabul to Saxony for Afghan students

Ahmad Farhad’s face is scarred. During the war, he and three of his brothers were injured, he says. He doesn’t elaborate, merely stares straight ahead, smiles, and changes the topic. This exchange, he says, is a miracle.

Ahmad is 19 years old and a student at Kabul’s Amani High School. He and 18 other teenagers came to Germany about three weeks ago as part of the first German-Afghan student exchange program. On Wednesday, the group flies back home, and will take many memories and new ideas with them.

Eine Schulklasse in Novobod

Girls and boys have separate schools in Afghanistan. Here a girls class in Novobod.

For the 18-year-old Atifa Formuli, one of the group's eight girls, the exchange proves that men and women can study and work together. Wearing a simple black suit, and flashing green eyes under her headscarf, she explains what the last three weeks have meant for her: "When we come here it means that the position of girls and boys is equal." In Kabul, boys and girls only spend the first two school years in the same classroom. But here, Atifa says, we can talk to each other.

Atifa is a student at the Aishe-e-Durani Girls School. Both her school and Amani High School are backed by the German Foreign Ministry and offer German language classes. The best students in each school are chosen to travel to Saxony, in eastern Germany, explains 16-year-old Masih ullah Hamkar. They live with host families and experience going to a German school.

Long hair and earrings

For Masih, just seeing the other students in school was an eye-opening experience. "Boys with long hair and earrings -- that was something different," he says. "There aren’t too many like that in Afghanistan. And the girls dress so differently, too," he recalls.

Eine Zeltschule in Novobod

School in tents in Novobod

Although it was interesting to sit in the classroom with the German students, he says he doesn’t think much of discipline at the schools here. In his country, Masih says, students respect their teachers. Back home, as many as 60 students crowd into one classroom and a disciplinary slap in the face is not uncommon when the teacher wants to maintain order. All the Afghan students strive for one thing: to learn, to study, so that later, they can help rebuild their country.

During their stay in Germany, they were amazed at the beautiful buildings, shops, highways, trains and the green landscape. But they were especially interested in experiencing the country's modern teaching methods.

More than rote learning

Computer Unterricht in Afghanistan

Computers are still rare in Afghanistan. Here young women learn an operation system at the Shirzai Training Academy in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

"It was a real surprise to see the students go to different classrooms to study," says Mohammed Feisal. The teaching methods are very advanced, with computers and all kinds of technical equipment, he remembers. "The students can see and experience everything, not just read about things in books. That surprised me."

Equally impressed by what she saw in the German schools, Atifa says she will tell the education ministry in Afghanistan how students in Germany learn. She was especially intrigued by a particular creative exercise in which all the students in a classroom listened to music and then each drew their own pictures inspired by the music. At first she thought such a task would be difficult, but it worked, she says, and she managed to come up with ideas on her own.

A German role model?

"I saw that every person in Germany was responsible for their own acts and worked by themselves. And because of this they have helped make their country beautiful and clean," Atifa recalls. "When we go back, we will say to everyone that we can also make our country like this," she pledges.

Atifa's goal, like that of her classmates, is to help rebuild her country. In order to do that the students all plan to go on to university and get a degree. Many would even like to study in Germany and hope for financial support to do so. It doesn't matter if they come from a different cultural background, Atifa says: "People are people wherever they are."

At the moment are no plans for another group of Afghan students to visit Germany. And, due to the tense security situation, a visit by German students to Afghanistan is not planned any time soon.

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